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CA leaders raise concerns over proposed bill that would reduce jail time for some robberies

Posted at 6:14 PM, Mar 30, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-31 01:35:54-04

A coalition of district attorneys, business leaders, and members of law enforcement who oppose Senate Bill 82 met Tuesday to express their concerns.

“SB-82 is painful and dangerous and must be rejected,” said Frank Lee, President of the Organization for Justice and Equality.

Lee is among other California leaders joining together to express concerns over Senate Bill 82.

In a video presented during a news conference Tuesday, panelists explain how the bill, if passed, would classify a robbery as a misdemeanor if the suspect did not use a weapon or cause bodily injuries to the victim.

"When these elements are not met, as we just saw in the video, the only thing we can charge them with in terms of the taking of that property is a misdemeanor petty theft which, in this state, there is no punishment essentially,” said Annie Esposito, Alameda Co. District Attorney and Chair of Asian American Prosecutors Association.

Currently, robbery is classified as a violent offense that can result in up to 5 years in prison but if the proposed bill is passed, offenders could only face up to one year in prison and a $1,000 fine, or both.

"Ask the victim of a violent crime who has had themselves put in danger or in fear of their lives if they consider robbery to be petty,” said Vern Pierson, El Dorado County DA and of President California District Attorneys Association.

Senator Nancy Skinner is proposing the bill. She says California's robbery statute hasn't been updated since 1872 and believes punishments should be proportionate to the crimes.

Local defense attorney Michael Gazelle says his office is neither for nor against the bill but believes it could cause more harm than good.

"I can imagine an ice cream man or an elote man now being robbed because this proposed bill would significantly change the law as it is currently in California,” Gazell said.

In a statement, Santa Barbara County District Attorney Joyce Dudley said in part, "I am opposed to it because it creates a new misdemeanor crime... I believe it will have a negative impact on public safety, especially for our community members who work in low-paying job positions."

She adds the bill doesn't account for the emotional and psychological trauma experienced by victims of force or fear of robberies like recent ones across the state.

San Luis Obispo County District Attorney Dan Dow is also opposing the bill, stating he is convinced this will create robberies in greater numbers and says it fails to be mindful of victims.

"I hope that the people of California hear about it and have a chance to contact their legislators and say enough is enough, we need to focus on victims, we need to make sure there is accountability in the community,” Dow said.

SB-82 will head to the Senate Appropriations Committee next Monday.